Au revoir, Joel Embiid.
The Philadelphia 76ers big man officially became a French citizen this week, according to French outlet BeBasket after beginning the naturalization process this past May. This sets him up to potentially join the 2021 silver medal squad led by Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert for the 2023 FIBA World Cup or the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Embiid was born in Cameroon and moved to the United States when he was 16 years old, but was able to gain citizenship because of a clause in the French civil code that allows naturalization to "a foreigner [...] whose naturalization is of exceptional interest," per BeBasket. Embiid speaks fluent French but has never lived in the country. He does have family there, though.
Would Embiid actually play for France?
There are a lot of bread crumbs that suggest Embiid will join Les Blues.
Back in 2018, Embiid said he would pick between Cameroon, France and the United States if he decided to play international basketball.
“I have never said that I will play for France, I said that it was just an option. I must play for many years (without injuries) before I think of joining a national team," he told the French newspaper, L'Équipe. "After that, it is complicated. I am from Cameroon but, there are many problems. They have to tend to them. I like my country, I am a patriot and I want to play it. If I have to choose, Cameroon will be my prime choice, if there is a good environment, because I am from there. But, I won’t be the only one to decide on a point in time. My current team which has invested $150 million on me will also have its say. It is a lot of money to let their player go in an environment without a good medical care. So, my native country, France, and the United States are my current options. I just want a good management."
So when Embiid officially began the naturalization process this past May, French national team general manager and former NBA forward Boris Diaw stated Embiid planned to play for France when he became a citizen.
Embiid also tweeted in celebration when France broke the United States' 25-game Olympic winning streak in an upset win in the Toyko Olympics in 2021.
Allez les Bleus!!!!
— Joel “Troel” Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) July 25, 2021
FIBA allows each team to roster one naturalized player – and France currently doesn't have a player that fits under that category. Enter the seven-foot, 280-pound Embiid.
It would make sense to join France now, too, after the team earned a silver medal in Toyko and will likely add likely 2023 first-overall pick Victor Wembanyama. The team already fields NBA players like Gobert, New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier, Atlanta Hawks guard Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Dallas Mavericks guard Frank Ntilikina and former Boston Celtics forward Guerschon Yabusele.
French players have opposed allowing naturalized citizens to play
Some French players have stated their displeasure with Embiid to joining the team in the past, though, because of his lack of connection to the country. This includes current national team member Fournier as well as former national team players Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, who all opposed the idea back when the rumor surfaced in 2018.
"Let's stop with the articles on Joel in Edf [French national team] please, it's getting ridiculous seriously. For me, playing for a country you have no ties with is disturbing. The selection is not just a sporting challenge. It's not at all against Joel. It bothers me when the other selections do it and it is therefore valid for the French team." Fournier said in a series of tweets. "Then where is the respect for Rudy? And the others who make sacrifices every summer for the [team]? And to finish these tweets were sponsored by my sure guy [Jeremy Nzeulie, a French-born basketball player plays for the Cameroon] who needs help in Cameroon team."
“It lacks a bit of authenticity when you do stuff like that," Parker said. "... In selection, it would be necessary to play with the players of the country, who grew up there. »
“I am against naturalized people," Batum said in 2018 about Embiid possibly joining. "But here, we are perhaps talking about the best player in his position. On the basketball level, without the ethical side, it must be done. Afterwards, on the ethical side, there is a problem…"
Current French national team point guard Andrew Albicy added this past May that "many people in the team" still don't want Embiid on the roster.
“I speak on my behalf but I think there are many people in the team who think the same: we would not like Embiid to come to the team because he does not represent France," Albicy said. "He was not trained in France, he has nothing French except for the family and the fact that he speaks French. He never played in France and, I may be exaggerating, but he may never have set foot in France."
Embiid's presence would bring create an imposing frontcourt for France, though. He averaged a league-leading 30.6 points per game, as well as 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game this past season for the 76ers. Embiid led the 76ers to the Eastern Conference Semifinals before losing to the Miami Heat in six games despite suffering a thumb injury he played through during the playoffs. He came in second place in MVP voting for the second consecutive year, losing – again – to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.
Embiid had surgery to repair his right thumb and his left index finger this spring and expects to be ready for the 2022 season later this year.